Birds are humming in my ears, it seems they are having a discussion. They seem to be chatting like locals, whining about the cold wind. I imagine them as having a nest around one of the pipes running along the safety stairs of this Lower East Side building. They cover the sound of cars, ambulances and squeking breaks of rubbish collection trucks. They gently wake me up to the other sounds of the city. Homeless people have something in common with these birds, they gather around the same place every day. I guess it’s the way humans deal with the urban jungle of New York, trying to find a nest.
Somehow I do the same. I studied the map of Manhattan in advance, listed all the places I want to visit, organised by day. My friends tease me for my precision. But all I do is to familiarise with the place, trying to blend in the huge urban landscape. Tall skyscrapers make you feel like a small bird.
I start with food gathering. I ask where the nearest supermarket is. It’s an expensive biological store, where they wash and cut carrots in easy chunks for you to eat. At least it’s healthy. The next day I discover Essex Market, it is so much more authentic, I find most of the food I like in a such a small space, there is Thai, Italian, Mexican, fresh fruit and vegetabes, a butcher, a fishmonger. I even find some arborio rice so we say it’s time for that nice risotto I sometimes treat my friends with. I hear a lot of Spanish so I think I will also address the vendor in Spanish but she anticipates me with a ‘Hola’ and a big smile. I like her stall and I imagine what would be like coming here every day.
I continue with the familiar at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. I have heard too many good things about this museum not to choose it as the first attraction, getting there via a pleasant stroll through Central Park. But again the fact that I spend most of the 4 hours visit at the European paintings section matches with the previously explained mechanism of getting around an urban jungle.
I am amazed by the number of Rembrants, Bosch, Caravaggio, Tiepolo, Picasso, Matisse, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh, Hopper, etc. I admire the known stuff and I check new painters. What carries me away is Gaugain. Whilst staring in awe, my friend approaches me and tells me: ‘I always liked Gaugin’. – ‘I know, me too! Especially his exotic period. I love this one especially because when I was a kid a print of his ‘Hail Mary’ was hanging in my living room.’
I also really like Hopper and when I don’t find him in the American wing I first type his name in the app and then I ask. He is in good company with Modigliani, Picasso, Matisse and De Chirico in the modern section.
Our visit ends in the sculpture hall, with Canova and Rodin. We take a rest and admire the architecture of the building. From the windows we catch a glimpse of the sun over the trees of Central Park. It’s time to go. The winter chill awaits, but somehow it feels warmer after
such a visual swim in the ocean of the arts.
Photos: Culturaal, Marco Ciavaglioli, Beppe Simone
To be continued….